While the Jets want to build around quarterback Sam Darnold, they will enter free agency with questions on the defensive side of the ball. The hunt for an edge rusher is a focus, but the Green & White also need to address questions at cornerback.
After signing Trumaine Johnson to a lucrative deal last March, the Jets have to decide what corners will line up with him in 2019 and beyond. Morris Claiborne, who signed one-year contracts with the Green & White in both 2017 and 2018, appeared in 30 contests the past two seasons. Playing opposite Johnson last year, Claiborne had a team-leading 14 pass defenses. The 5’11”, 192-pound Claiborne, who has seven career interceptions, just turned 29 and it will be interesting to see the term of his new deal whether in New York or elsewhere.
Just like Claiborne, Buster Skrine is 29. Unlike the former, Skrine inked a four-year contract with the Jets in 2015 and primarily lined up inside in his 59 contests with New York’s AFC representative. The 5’9”, 185-pound Skrine finished tied for fourth on the club (with Claiborne) with 57 tackles last season and he also added eight pass defenses. If Skrine departs, the Jets may have an in-house candidate to replace him in Parry Nickerson. A sixth-round pick out of Tulane, the speedy Nickerson learned the nickel spot as Skrine’s understudy and made a pair of starts his rookie campaign.
The versatile Darryl Roberts, who joins Claiborne and Skrine as a UFA, was used not only outside at cornerback last season, but he also filled in at safety when Marcus Maye headed to injured reserve. The 28-year-old Roberts had a career-high 45 tackles in 2018 with seven pass defenses and an interception.
Here are some of the notable names among cornerbacks who could be available as unrestricted FAs:
Ronald Darby: Limited to 17 regular-season games the past two seasons in Philadelphia, Darby is just 25. The 5’11”, 193-pounder, a second-round pick of the Bills in 2015, has the tools to be one of the game’s top cornerbacks. His career totals include 54 pass defenses and six interceptions.
Bryce Callahan: A former undrafted free agent, the Rice product became an important piece on the Bears defense while manning the nickel spot. The 27-year-old Callahan, a practice squad graduate, started 16 games the past two years and totaled 12 pass defenses, four interceptions and three sacks.
Jason Verrett: When Verrett is on the field, he is productive. The problem is he has had difficulty staying healthy. The former first-round pick has recorded five interceptions and 19 pass defenses in 25 career games. A Pro Bowler in 2015, the 5’10”, 188-pound Texas Christian product missed last season with a torn ACL and he combined to appear in only 11 games in 2014, ‘16 and ‘17.
Kareem Jackson: The 20th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft has played each of his nine seasons with the Houston Texans. Statistically Jackson may have had his best year in 2018 with 17 pass defenses and two forced fumbles in addition to 87 tackles. Jackson will turn 31 on April 10th, so the offers could vary in terms of length.
Darqueze Dennard: Another possible option at nickel, Dennard was a first-round pick in 2014 and made a career-high nine starts last season for the Bengals. The 5’11”, 200-pounder had 149 tackles, 12 pass defenses, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2017-18.
Bashaud Breeland: A four-year starter in Washington, Breeland signed with the Panthers in free agency last spring and then failed a physical. He wound up in Green Bay, appearing in seven contests and hauling in two interceptions. In his first five pro seasons, the 5’11”, 195-pound Breeland had 64 pass defenses and 10 picks.
Steven Nelson: Familiar with the slot, Nelson shifted over and played outside for the Chiefs in 2018. Just 26, the third-rounder out of Oregon State in 2015, started 16 games last season and had four interceptions and 15 pass defenses.
Bradley Roby: What will the market bear for Roby after an inconsistent year in Denver? The 5’11”, 182-pounder, a first-round pick in 2014, might be seeking a big deal. Mike Klis, who covers the Broncos for 9News recently wrote, “The Broncos would like him back at a reduced average annual rate, but he will seek a deal of at least $10 million a year.”
Jason McCourty: Having already expressed a desire to stay in New England, McCourty is set to be a free agent at the start of the new year. Along with winning a championship with the Patriots, McCourty played alongside his twin brother, Devin, in the defensive backfield. The Rutgers product will turn 32 in August.
Another option at nickel is Justin Coleman. He was a good cover man in Seattle and would figure to receive a lot of interest on the market. Rashaan Melvin has played for five NFL club since 2013 and the journeyman will likely stay on the move after an uneven year in Oakland. Melvin could be a No. 2 corner in the right system. A boundary corner in Indianapolis, Pierre Desir has good size at 6’1”, 198 pounds and the 28-year-old is coming off his best season as a pro.